Rahm Emanuel Wanted to Be First Jewish House Speaker—Will the Honor Go to Eric Cantor?



Source: Carol Felsenthal, Chicago Magazine, 7-11-11

Rep. Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Center stage in the debt limit/government default drama now playing in Washington is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Seldom off stage, he was instrumental in forcing Speaker of the House John Boehner to resist President Obama’s plea to make a jumbo deal—a deal that would have required Boehner to accept tax increases in exchange for deep budget cuts. During a meeting of congressional leaders in the White House Cabinet Room last night, it was Cantor who did most of the talking on the House Republican side, as he reiterated the no-tax increase mantra.

Here in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel may be busy with the latest weekend tragedy of street gangs’ bullets missing their targets and hitting children, but he is surely keeping his eye on Capitol Hill, his old stomping ground. Were he still there, he would be playing the Cantor role on the other side of the aisle.

When President Obama asked Emanuel to quit Congress and serve as his chief of staff, Emanuel wasn’t posturing when he appeared tortured and portrayed accepting the powerful White House post as a sacrifice.

Hence his now infamous taped telephone call to Rod Blagojevich asking if the then-governor could appoint Rahm’s buddy Forrest Claypool as a 5th District seat warmer until Rahm could escape the White House and return to the Congress—and his goal of becoming the first Jewish Speaker of the House.

With Emanuel’s ascension to first Jewish mayor of Chicago, the Speaker dream is defunct.

It has been replaced, I believe, by a grander dream—of becoming the first Jewish president. When George Stephanopoulos asked the new Mayor about running for the White House in 2016, Rahm’s response was hardly Shermanesque.

For Cantor, the first Jewish majority leader—and the only Jewish Republican in either the House or Senate, the dream of becoming the first Jewish Speaker is very much alive. Some observers see his Speakership as a pit stop en route to becoming the first Jewish president, but others say he doesn’t have what it takes to reach the White House.

“Cantor has positioned himself precisely where he wants to be. It’s realistic for [him] to aim for Speaker,” says political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “I think president is a real stretch, not because of his religion but because Cantor lacks the kind of charisma that is needed on right or left to win the White House.”….

The country got its first black president in 2008. Perhaps in 2016 or 2020, Rahm will become the first Jewish president. But not if Cantor gets there first.

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